Does Ear Candling Work?

Many patients inquire about a holistic way of removing earwax naturally, namely using ear candling device.  Basically, this is a cone-shaped device made from paraffin.  Creating a fire on the wider end of the cone creates negative pressure, which then sucks in air through the narrow end of the cone.  If this is placed in the ear canal, ideally the earwax would be sucked from the ear canal into the cone, leaving the ear canal wax-free.

I am not opposed to holistic or alternative methods of medical therapy.  In fact, I have supplemented my Western medical education by learning acupuncture for physicians.  I frequently use acupuncture techniques in order to better help my patients in any way possible.

However, there are several drawbacks to using the candling technique in the ear.  First, the candling is done “blindly.”  By this I mean that there is usually an assumption that there is earwax in the ear that needs to be removed, and therefore the candling should be used.  Not all cases of fullness in the ear are due to earwax build-up.  Other reasons for blockage of the ear could be due to ear infection or water stuck in the ears.  Therefore, when candling is used by lay persons without first examining the ear for the actual cause of the fullness of the ear, one might not treat the correct problem.

Secondly, not looking into the ear with an otoscope, a lay person can never determine what is the endpoint.  Simply because the ear feels less clogged does not mean that all of the earwax that was present came out successfully.  Only with direct visualization with an otoscope one can determine if the earwax problem is completely resolved or if there is still remnants present in the ear canal.

My third concern with the procedure is that the device is in fact shaped like a cone.  The fire is burning at the wider end, which is typically held in the upright position.  From time-to-time the paraffin can melt from the heat and come down through the cone in reverse and actually enter the ear canal.  I have occasionally seen instances of the hardened paraffin that had entered the external ear canal and caused a superficial burn and additional blockage of the ear.  I have also seen instances of paraffin dust scattered through the ear, and it takes months for the natural cleaning mechanisms of the ear to eradicate this.

Therefore, as much as I am not opposed to any holistic measures of eradicating the earwax problem effectively, I do not think that using candling without proper medical supervision and equipment is advised.  In an ideal setting, a trained professional should first inspect the ear to determine what is the nature of the blockage.  If the blockage is in fact due to earwax build-up, various different techniques could be applied to remove this earwax.  Only through a second inspection can determination be made if all the earwax came out successfully.

Many general care practitioners feel comfortable removing most instances of earwax build-up in their office.  Occasionally, the texture or the amount of earwax is beyond the capacity of a general practitioner, and the patient needs to be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist for expert care.  Most ear, nose, and throat specialist have all the necessary equipment (and skill) in the office to successfully remove earwax or other reasons for the blockage.

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Posted in: Ears

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